Thriving on campus: Self-care and beyond

Thriving on campus: Self-care and beyond

Head of Student Wellness Services talks about integrated supports and small steps for staying well.

By Wanda Praamsma, Senior Communications Officer

September 30, 2016


Jennifer Dods, Executive Director of Student Wellness Services.

Jennifer Dods is a big believer in self-care, and in making yourself and your well-being a priority. This is not a surprise, as she’s been in the health-care field, as well as education, for many years, and has spent a lot of time thinking about ways to thrive in an academic environment.

The new executive director of Student Wellness Services (SWS), Ms. Dods says often it’s the simple things that get overlooked – eating well, sleeping well, getting outside – when students get absorbed in their studies and feel weighed down by multiple deadlines, as well as social pressures.

Student Wellness Services comprises four areas:
Health services provides doctors appointments for physical, mental, and sexual health, specialist referrals, medication management, and psychotherapy. It also hosts mindfulness workshops, and offers nursing appointments for health issues such as allergy shots, immunizations, and bloodwork.
Counselling services provides short-term counselling geared to resolving personal difficulties, dealing with crises, and distressing situations. It also works closely with partners across campus and the Kingston community to assist students who need specialized mental health services or longer-term counselling support.
Accessibility services provides supports for students with disabilities, including transition programming, individualized accommodation planning, advocacy, and referrals to other on- and off-campus supports.
Health promotion strives to promote and raise awareness of healthy living initiatives. Peer health educators are an important part of these services and lead workshops and activities around campus to encourage healthy choices.

“I like to remind everyone that you can pursue excellence without perfection,” she says. “Queen’s students are very competent and capable – they are often working, involved in extracurricular activities, supporting others, volunteering, and many other activities, in addition to academics. What’s often needed is a reminder to be kinder to themselves, to give themselves permission to take breaks from studying and to schedule time to do the things that keep them healthy.”

Ms. Dods says it’s easy to get caught up in the stresses or routines of everyday life. “I think everyone needs to step back at certain times, and take some time to think about what aspects of their life are healthy and where they need to re-prioritize.”

Network of programs to help students succeed

While self-care is an important foundation for well-being, support from friends and family, peer supports, and professional supports are also vital to wellness, she says. In her role as head of SWS, which she began in spring 2016, Ms. Dods oversees a spectrum of services available to students on campus: health services, counselling services, accessibility services, and health promotion activities, many of which are peer-led. The units work together – and with partners across campus – to provide a range of programs and services to help undergraduate and graduate students succeed academically and personally.

Ms. Dods’s goal is to keep building on efforts to integrate the network of services available to students – to provide streamlined processes that respond to students’ needs.

“Students are busy and we need to provide services that are simple to access and navigate. For example, we are looking to introduce a new mental health intake position to make it easier for students who have mental health concerns to access the most appropriate service provider in a timely manner,” explains Ms. Dods. The number of doctors, counsellors and accessibility advisors on the SWS team has increased this fall and more appointment times are now available for students. SWS is also introducing more evening health clinics this year and a Saturday morning health walk-in clinic once a month.

“We have a great team of people committed to supporting students in their academic and personal pursuits. We also want to build partnerships with all the student-focused services on campus and in the community to ensure students can access a wide range of services.”

Intersecting career paths

For Ms. Dods, working in Student Wellness Services, which is part of the Division of Student Affairs, marks a culmination of two intersecting arcs in her career. For the past 15-plus years, she has been involved in both the health and education sectors, and is a strong believer in interprofessional practice and the value of integrated care. After undergraduate studies in nursing, education, and psychology from the University of Ottawa, she spent the next decade working both in special education in the public school board and in adolescent psychiatric and mental health services, in various roles.

She came to Queen’s in 2008 to work on a Master of Education, with a focus on better understanding the educational experiences of youth who had lived with trauma and abuse. She went on to do a PhD, focusing on the mental health and mental health literacy of students in nursing and teacher education programs, and the intentions of pre-professionals to support mental health in practice. (Ms. Dods will defend her PhD later this year.) She’s been an instructor in Continuing Teacher Education for the past seven years, and is an adjunct professor in the School of Nursing.

As for Ms. Dods’s own self-care plan, she again brings it back to the simple things: getting outside, spending time with friends, taking walks, eating well. And when she’s really needed a big change in her life, travel has helped immensely. She says going to a new place, either in Canada or abroad, refreshes her perspective and lets her see things in a new light.

“This role really is a great fit for me, and it’s wonderful to be able to bring all the areas I’ve worked in together in one position,” says Ms. Dods. “And at the heart of this is the students, and providing them with a welcoming, safe place where they can access a range of supports that builds on their strengths and addresses their health and wellness needs.”